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Germany

Showing Neo-Nazis the Way Out

A year ago the German Ministry of the Interior created a program to help right-wing youths leave the extremist scene. Today, the results are sobering: hardly a neo-Nazi has used the program.

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Quiting the neo-Nazi scene requires more than a change of shoes

Last year the federal Minister for the Interior, Otto Schily (SPD), called for the establishment of a drop out program for right-wing radicals. The plan was to help young neo-Nazis and other youths to leave their extremist scene and to help them integrate back into society. Since its founding, however, the program has had few successes.

Critics rate the program a "flop". So far, only 40 right-extremists have found their way to the government-sponsored counseling program. Moreover, the approach is all wrong, they say. With a few talks and a bit of money, it’s nearly impossible to convince fanatic nationalists to depart from their group and ideology.

Birth pains

Some say Schily’s program got off to a bad start. When it was first established, the topic of right-wing violence was one of the government’s main topics. But the program’s concept remained controversial throughout its growth. The notion of government employees meeting with leading neo-Nazis, helping them to find jobs, offering them financial support and in extreme cases giving them a new identity, left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.

Schily was accused of following a "short-term concept" for political purposes and even "subsidizing" the neo-Nazis. In the critics’ eyes the Nazis were being awarded for their way of thinking.

With the drop-out program, only the symptoms were being targeted and not the roots of the problem, criticizes Burkhard Schröder, an expert on right-wing extremism. It would be better to support anti-racism projects with a hefty financial injection, he says.

The government should have nothing to do with the neo-Nazi scene, says Ulla Jelpke of the Party of Democratic Socialists (PDS). Schily’s program is especially problematic in the context of the recent secret agent scandal, where undercover intelligence agents infiltrated the ranks of the National Party of Germany and were unable to testify against the party in the government’s case to ban it.

On the other hand, Hans-Gert Lange, spokesperson for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, says the drop-out program sends a "signal" to the right-wing radicals. And such a signal is at least a start.

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence authority, says there were approximately 16,000 registered cases of right-wing crimes committed in the year 2000, and some 50,000 non-organized right-wing extremists. In a few weeks Schily will release the figures for 2001. The question is whether or not they have improved, and what role the government played in their change from the previous year.

Last EXIT

A private neo-Nazi drop-out program has also been established by a non-governmental organization. Called EXIT, the program runs parallel to Schily’s and hopes to reach out to the young neo-Nazis in ways the government’s program cannot.

The private program is run by the Berlin Center for Democratic Culture and paid for by donations to the initiative "Mut gegen rechte Gewalt" (Courage against right extreme violence) from the news magazine "Stern" and by private donors.

Compared to the government’s program, youths interested in quitting the right-wing scene have to make the first step and contact EXIT. The program and its counselors not only helps the youths themselves, but reaches out to their parents and advisors them how they can assist their children.

EXIT has a slightly higher success rate than the government’s program. Currently, 10 counselors are advising 100 willing drop-outs, 60 of whom are considered to have a "good chance of re-integration".

Matthias Adrian, an EXIT staff member and a former neo-Nazi himself, says the private Berlin based program is more successful because it does more than the government’s to help right-wing extremists build up a new social environment, something they desperately need. He also believes Schily’s program is doomed to failure simply because of its official government nature.

"The state would have been the absolutely last place I would have approached after I got out, or just before. Of course for neo-Nazis the state is the main enemy, the main opponent."

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